The Comic That Changed Everything – Part 14

Part 1[2] - [3] - [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

In our last episode, Tim stretched out this story of getting into G.I. Joe comics by also including Marvel super-hero books like Uncanny X-Men.  This week he gets back to G.I. Joe.  Sort of.

After that first mail order in the early summer when my brother Kevin and I got 11 G.I. Joe back issues for $22, we were hooked on the process.  New Jersey-based East Coast Comics, the fine retailer that had filled that first order, was smart to include an updated catalog (a pamphlet, actually) with it, and some months later we gathered our pennies and plotted to fill more holes in our G.I. Joe run.  At this point, the series is on issue #95 or thereabouts, so we’ve got 70 comics or reprints to track down.  Several options offered opportunities to get those comics, each just uninteresting enough that I will probably blog about them individually on upcoming Fridays – finding other comic book stores, attending our first comic book convention, sampling a mail order company beyond East Coast Comics.  But for today:  Our second and third mail orders.

This probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but for me this image is all nostalgia:  The handwriting of my 11-year old self, my mom’s signature, specific G.I. Joe gaps we were attempting to fill, the fact that I still didn’t understand what “Alternates” were – (second choices in case a comic was sold out, so East Coast didn’t have to issue credit slips), and the fact that we were trying out a new series (Nth Man, Ninja Turtles Teach Karate).

Also, memory is funny in how often it turns out to be wrong:  This scan concretely places when we bought issue #36 of The ‘Nam, meaning I was incorrect a few weeks back in this very blog.  I must not have bought that issue at the Montgomery Mall Waldenbooks as 6th grade began.  Apparently it arrived by mail a few months later.  I have no recollection of receiving this box, although I do remember thinking Solson’s TMNT book was an amateurish affair, remarkable considering how amateurish the production in Mirage Studios’ actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was.  So this must have arrived right around Christmas of 6th grade.  Anyway, there it is, what was probably our second ever mail order.

But let’s skip a few months ahead to spring of 6th grade.  The first two mail orders have arrived quickly.  Kevin and I have saved up enough money to place a big order, and with East Coast selling many issues for less than a dollar, this was not going to be 10 or 15 comics.  No, this time we ordered 40 G.I. Joe back issues.  It was bold, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking.  Even though we were clearly comics buyers by now (Joe, The ‘Nam, Marvel super-hero books, Ninja Turtles), it’s still a transition from being boys who spent money on toys to boys who with our own money bought things to read.  (Chapter books and the occasional Garfield collection were paid for by our parents.)  This shift represented, in a very real sense and not just symbolically, us growing up and away from childhood.  We bought toys and played with them for a few more years (me much longer than Kevin), but toys’ days were numbered the moment I bought that first Joe comic.  (Except for me becoming a vintage toy collector, another topic for another day.)

My friend Will (Hi, Will), also in 6th grade with me, was becoming a comics reader as well.  And comics had a certain currency in my tiny classroom.  One friend talked about Wolverine.  I drew a cutely terrible Batman parody in my notebook.  And new G.I. Joe issues did appear each month concurrent to all this.  But as the weeks went by, I got anxious about this big mail order.  Why was it taking so long?  Why was it taking weeks when the earlier order had only taken one?  Was the package lost somewhere en route?  Did East Coast abscond with our money?  Was the parcel stolen from our front stoop?  During lulls in class I would fantasize to Will about what it would be like to open a box with 40 comics in it.  To instantly more than double the size of our collection.

The specific scenario I kept painting went like this:  Arriving home one day, I’d notice our screen door propped open, even though it always closed shut on its own.  Something must be in the way, something I couldn’t see from the car.  We parked.  I approach cautiously.  Now the box is revealed:  It’s eight feet tall, cardboard, sealed with packing tape.  It can only be one thing.  It can only be an East Coast Comics parcel bursting with comics.  Literally, the box edges are no longer straight, parallel, and perpendicular, as if the comics are forcing their way out, the packing tape starting to tear, like a cartoon container for some magical energy, some tazmanian devil, some pressurized tank ready to explode.  Inside the house I cut it open, but a tidal wave of newsprint pages and glossy covers, G.I. Joe comics the likes of which I’ve never known, surge out as if from a fire hose, like an avalanche, pushing me back, smothering me, the sound like the crash of beach surf!

Will and I said this to each other in a stage whisper, as I’d act it out in my seat, making the rumbly sound effect for the shower of comics.  It was a vignette we’d quietly pantomime for each other, sitting in our seats during a lull in class.  Will’s enthusiasm only reflected back on me, and the wait only became more difficult.

WHEN WOULD THE BOX ARRIVE?

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